OK, altogether, on the count of three. One…two…three…WASH! If you’re a “Firefly” fan, that made sense, and if you’re not, dear God, go find a friend who has the DVDs and dig in. But I’m not here to pimp “Firefly,” I’m here to praise an outstanding episode of “Dollhouse,” which was a little heavy on the allegory but incredibly dense on mythology, narrative advancement, and enough confusing sexual hang-ups to fill a few dozen doctoral dissertations.
At the heart of the show lies Ballard’s attempt to infiltrate the Dollhouse itself. After breaking up with Mellie (with a kind of “It’s not you, it’s…you” type of speech), he then tails an incredibly desperate girl who contemplates suicide on the Los Angeles freeway. He then follows her handlers’ van back to the underground mouth of the dollhouse, replete with security cameras and briar thickets. Oops, did I say briar thickets? I meant barbed wire.
The briar thickets come from “Sleeping Beauty,” the heart of the hour’s allegory. Echo-as-social-worker reads the story in order to help Susan, an angry girl with feelings of helplessness. Echo would know something about Susan because, well, for all intents and purposes she IS Susan, only one having moved on from the trauma which still traps younger Susan. It’s a touch unclear WHY Echo is on this mission, although Topher hints that it’s the Dollhouse’s equivalent of community service. But it does offer up rich imagery of the gendered nature of most fairy tales, with the man perpetually saving the woman.
Naturally, no Joss Whedon show would take this as given, ideal, or remotely correct. So while Jane Espenson’s witty and cutting script played with the “Sleeping Beauty” imagery, it did so only to lull the audience into a certain sense of comfort, not unlike Ballard’s break-in partner to the Dollhouse. After obtaining the name of the man who built the self-contained environmental systems at 23 Flower, Ballard finds a man by the name of WASH! Oops, did it again: his name was Stephen Kepler. Or, maybe Keyser Soze. Or, going one step further: Alpha.
Tudyk’s role on the show was sadly a horribly kept secret, and even spoilerphobes such as myself had a hard time avoiding this casting when it was initially announced. Bad interwebs! So while I immensely enjoyed Tudyk speaking Whedonese once again, I kept waiting for the switch to occur. Alpha’s essential plan? Step 1: send an encrypted USB drive to Dominic in order to lure the Dollhouse’s attention towards a body in Tucson, Arizona. Step 2: Pose as the now deceased and displaced Kepler and use Ballard as a square-jawed, disgraced, more than a little sexually confused federal agent to tussle with the Dollhouse’s head of security while comfortably dismantling the facility’s security system.
The goal? Spring Echo, but exactly whose personality did Alpha download into her? Seems safe to assume that it wasn’t Caroline that laid the blood-smeared smoochies on Alpha. We’ll undoubtedly learn more about this mystery woman in next week’s finale, and hopefully it will tie into exactly why Alpha spared her during the initial rampage in which Claire Saunders received her scars. But for now, he’s long gone and potentially impossible to find, with Ballard more than likely working in tandem with Boyd in order to find her. Hopefully they aren’t too sore from breaking the majority of the Dollhouse with their bodies to successfully save her.
Other newsworthy things from tonight:
- Victor-as-Dominic=WIN. I can’t call Victor my favorite character on the show, since he’s inherently a cipher, but Enver Gjokaj sells the holy hell out of every weekly character they give him to play. Couple that will his child-like blank slate (“People were fighting on me!”), and you have an outstanding part of this show.
- Foreshadowing of the night: “She’s close to moving forward, but it’s gonna hurt.” The last thirty minutes of the show featured some brutal hand-to-hand combat, and I’m sure a season finale filled with Alpha won’t be filled with tea parties and small talk.
- I dig that Alpha is insanely smart but NOT omnipotent. He’s a fan of misdirection and mindgames, applying a psychological Five Pointed Palm Exploding Heart technique rather than go in with brute force. After all, he’s insanely powerful, but bullets will in fact kill him. Look back at every message he sent to Ballard all year: it was preparation for this intrusion, anticipation both Ballard’s determination and the Dollhouse’s hubris in order to slip in undetected.
- Ballard’s decision to keep Mellie/November in her chamber: You have to wonder, and I think you’re SUPPOSED to wonder, why he’s more concerned about the safety of a woman he’s barely encountered versus the person living next door. And yes, I understand Mellie is fact not Mellie. Maybe Caroline is still in the “ideal” state, the princess that needs saving, not the flesh and blood next door that reminds Ballard is just how weak his own flesh truly is.
- I’m trying to decide if I liked Alpha-as-Kepler was a great fake-out or ridiculously over the top. My personal affection for Tudyk’s acting and Espenson’s writing clouds my judgment something fierce. I’d love to hear what you thought of the choices they made for that character before the switch truly flipped.
- "Carrots! Medicinal carrots!" FTW.
- Topher-as-Dominic seemed to call Dr. Saunders, "Whiskey," just before she gave him a shot. Asking for a drink? Most likely not. The doc's a doll.
- I think we saw Topher and Ivy getting along this week. I had to rewind to be sure, but yup, sure looked like it. Having never it before, it threw me off.
In short: color me excited for how this is all going to end. My only current reticence lies in the fact that we still know almost next to nothing about Alpha, so his actions at the end of the episode were full of surprise but devoid of context. But I have faith that next week will color in the lines. Probably in crimson red.
Did you see the twist coming? And why is Alpha so obsessed with Echo? Leave your thoughts below!
Ryan will be taking up a collection for Victor's reconstructive facial surgery over at Boob Tube Dude.